Thursday, December 1, 2011

Clinton Meets Burmese President, Future Reforms Top Agenda

Burmese President Thein Sein meets with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the President's Office in Naypyidaw on Thursday, December 1, 2011. (Source: AFP)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Burmese President Thein Sein on Thursday morning in Naypyidaw in a meeting in which she was expected to discuss future reform steps that the US would like to see the Burmese government undertake and the possible US response if the reform process continues.

"I am here today because President Obama and myself are encouraged by the steps that you and your government have taken to provide for your people," Clinton told Thein Sein as the two sat down for talks in Burma's ornate presidential palace.

Speaking to reporters, a senior US State Department official said on Tuesday that the secretary of state comes to Naypyidaw with “a series of very specific steps that we would like to see in terms of the next phase of the process that is underway inside the country.”

“We expect this to be a very thorough review of not only the steps that they have taken, what we expect to see in the future, but the things that the United States is prepared to do in response not only to these preliminary steps, but what might be possible if the process of reform and openness continues,” the official said.

For example, Clinton was expected to seek clarification on what actions Burma's quasi-civilian government will take with respect to the release of political prisoners and the peaceful resolution of ethnic conflicts.

Prior to meeting with Thein Sein, Clinton met with Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin. According to the State Department official, her discussions with Wunna Maung Lwin were expected to focus on Naypyidaw’s military ties with Pyongyang, primarily reports that Burma has secretly imported missile technology from North Korea.

“I would say that the areas that we are primarily concerned with in terms of the relationship between North Korea and Burma are in the realm of missiles and other military equipment that are prohibited by UN Security Council Resolutions 1874 and others,” said the State Department official.

“And our discussions will be around seeking much stronger assurances and international codified assurances of a determination on the part of the government to discontinue activities that we believe are antithetical to the maintenance of peace and stability,” he added.

Clinton’s historic trip marked the first time a top US diplomat has visited Burma since 1962, when a military junta staged a coup against the country's last democratically-government.

The meeting between Clinton and Thein Sein is expected to be the beginning of a renewal in US-Burma relations and is the high-point to date of President Barack Obama's dual-track Burma policy of engagement and economic sanctions.

“This visit is the first in five decades. Your visit is historic and will be a new chapter in relations. I appreciate the atmosphere you have created for friendly relations," Thein Sein told Clinton in the meeting, according to an AFP report.

Obama's chief diplomatic envoy will also hold meetings with members of Burma’s Parliament and then head to Rangoon to pay a visit to the country's holiest Buddhist shrine, the Shwedagon Pagoda, and have a private dinner with Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

It will be Clinton’s first meeting with Suu Kyi and they are expected to talk about recent developments in the country and how best Burma can move forward to further democratic changes.

In his briefing to reporters, the State Department official said that when Obama spoke with Suu Kyi by phone before announcing Clinton’s visit, “She [Suu Kyi] was very encouraging of the trip, very supportive of efforts the United States has taken, thought that we had handled things exactly right, and has made some suggestions of some steps that she believes that we should take in order to support the reform effort, but also has suggested certain things that she thinks are still premature, which we agree with.”

Summarizing his comments to the reporters, the official said that Clinton’s message would be that the US welcomes the initial steps that have been taken in Burma, but “this is simply a first step and that several other things will need to take root and happen for the United States to be able to work closely to support this overall effort.”

The official reiterated that Clinton will have specific ideas that she will roll out in each of her meetings with the Burmese government, the parliamentarians, Suu Kyi, the ethnic groups and members of civil society.

“I think our overall desire is to be in listening mode, to do a fact-finding, as President Obama has indicated, and also to test the seriousness, particularly of the [Burmese] government, in terms of what it wants to accomplish in the period ahead,” the official said.
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